RANGOON — Eight ethnic armed groups who have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) said they oppose using the term “terrorists organizations” to label other ethnic groups who remain non-NCA signatories, saying that the term is inflammatory and could negatively affect the peace process.
The eight NCA signatories released a statement on Sunday after meeting with government officials and Burma Army officers in Rangoon. Attendees at the meeting discussed several topics, including how they would cooperate on upcoming national-level political dialogues, the next Union peace conference, and the ceasefire monitoring process.
“We oppose the labeling of any ethnic armed organization or its individual leader as a ‘terrorist organization’ or ‘terrorist’ because such action will damage the work of national reconciliation and internal peace that we are carrying out,” the statement read.
“The government is now carrying out an internal peace and national reconciliation effort,” said Saw Kwe Htoo Win, general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), the most powerful NCA signatory. “And at the same time, we are trying to bring those ethnic armed groups who are not ready to sign the NCA into the peace process. So, we think it is not appropriate to call them ‘terrorist organizations.’ We see this labeling as something that will damage the peace and reconciliation process.”
On Dec. 2, Defense Minister Lt-Gen Sein Win proposed that the Lower House of Parliament should label the Northern Alliance ethnic armed groups, which are carrying out a military offensive in northern Shan State, as a coalition of “terrorist organizations.”
The Northern Alliance includes the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA). The four ethnic armed groups have been engaged in a joint offensive against the Burma Army in northern Shan State since Nov. 20. None of the four groups have signed the NCA.
Lt-Gen Sein Win said the ethnic armed groups should be considered terrorist organizations because they had caused deaths and injuries to civilians, opened fire on non-military infrastructure and vehicles, and damaged public property.
NCA signatories have urged the non-signatories to meet with government officials and the Burma Army in order to solve the conflict peacefully, said Kwe Htoo Win.
“We can’t achieve peace with only military means. We should stop fighting, and then let’s talk. It is important for both the government and the concerned ethnic groups to end the conflict,” said Kwe Htoo Win.
The statement by the eight NCA signatories also urged the government and the non-signatories to think positively and cooperate constructively in the peace process.
Meanwhile, leaders of the ethnic armed group coalition United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) did not attend a planned meeting on Monday in Rangoon. The UNFC, which includes the KIA, was invited to the meeting by the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), a government negotiation team.
On Monday, the US Embassy also released a statement saying it was deeply concerned by the escalating violence in Kachin and Shan states and by reports of abuses against civilians.
“We continue to call for restraint from all sides and to urge immediate, unfettered humanitarian access to all those affected by conflict throughout the country. The US Embassy urges all sides to cease hostilities so that the important effort to achieve peace can move forward,” read the statement.
The Irrawaddy reporter Kyaw Kha also contributed to this story.